Some months back, I responded to a call for papers that asked writers to submit an article about the truth of their children's conceptions. I don't think the editors of the anthology were expecting my candor. I don't think I was expecting the freedom that came with telling them my story.
I have six children. None of them were planned. In fact, there was more trauma and drama around the pregnancy announcements than there was elation.
My babies are spread across four different dads, and while I am not proud of that, I'm also not really ashamed, either. The numbers are part of my life's facts. And there are so many other facts that created those facts...but that's a different post. What I will say is that I did not have fairytale conceptions, not in most cases.
The truth is, I got pregnant -- often -- because I did not have enough reason not to. Besides, I loved being pregnant. I loved what pregnancy did for my hair and skin. I loved when the babies kicked and turned. I loved the final push that always led to a child's transition from my womb into the world. All of that was worth any backlash I anticipated after announcing a pregnancy.
That backlash always confused me. Men who refused to wear a condom or use the "pull-out" method always surprised me when they seemed flabbergasted, overwhelmed and appalled at the thought of fathering yet another child -- as if they had forgotten how babies were made. But again, that's another post.
I think the real point of this one is to get to the heart of the matter about why I rarely chose to protect myself and why I didn't use birth control. The answer to both is simple: I was afraid.
The reason why I was having sex, at least at first, was because I didn't value myself. I didn't get many points for being a smart, dark skinned black girl. But I did seem to get points for my other "skills." The guys didn't mind spending time with me, even if it was just long enough to make a baby...or two.
I'm exaggerating a bit. The men I made babies with were not one-night stands or temporary hook ups. They were people I met and grew to love. None of that negates the fact that in more cases than not, my sexual relationships with them began with a kind of unspoken bartering contract: I will give you my body if you give me your companionship.
Several of my children were conceived from that kind of arrangement. I was having sex from the clearance rack. I'm not proud of that either. And I didn't have the capacity or self worth to demand protection. Even still, I didn't trust birth control. Knowing about stories like the Tuskegee experiment and the forced sterilization of women of color, I have always been concerned about the long-term effects of pills and implants. Honestly, I won't take an aspirin unless I really have to, let alone pain meds. Birth control was out of the question.
So how did I gain the self esteem I needed to make different choices? I discovered enough reason to make do something different. Prior to discovering my career, building a business and becoming a doctor, my biggest and most important accomplishment in life was being a mother, caring for my children. My goal in life was to have a big family, like my aunts and grandparents, so that my children could be like my cousins and my mother and her siblings. Because I practically grew up as an only child, I wanted my babies to have what I didn't have: inside jokes, a house full of laughter and brothers and sisters who'd be their lifelong support. Like my aunties and my grandma, I wanted seven children.
I never accomplished that goal. Instead, my work took the place of that final baby; it became my seventh kid. So much of my experience with mothering had been about sacrifice and giving. So much of it had been about taking care of others. My work, however, taught me about the value of taking care of myself.
I remember running across this quote from Audre Lorde: "Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare." This was the missing piece. Birthing children satisfied my to desire to care for others, but studying mothers taught me how to take care of myself while I took care of others.
This leads me back to my truth about conception. I stopped conceiving children when I began to learn the value of conceiving ideas. The two created a kind of symbiosis.
I brought that balance to intercourse. I began using condoms during sex with my partners because I understood my power. I knew I was worth protecting. And somehow, that made lovemaking all the more better.